Alex Salmond criticises Liz Lloyd and claims WhatsApp message deletion not policy in his time as First Minister and SNP leader

Former first minister Alex Salmond was giving evidence in Westminster to the Scottish affairs committee

Alex Salmond has insisted message deletion was not a Scottish Government policy in his time as first minister, as he claimed Nicola Sturgeon’s former chief of staff would have been “1,000 miles” from a senior role under his leadership.

The Alba party leader criticised Liz Lloyd over messages suggesting the Scottish Government used Covid to make a “good old fashioned rammy” with Westminster.

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Appearing before the Scottish affairs committee on Tuesday, Mr Salmond was asked by Labour MP Michael Shanks if he would have taken the same approach during the pandemic.

Former first minister Alex Salmond. Picture: PAFormer first minister Alex Salmond. Picture: PA
Former first minister Alex Salmond. Picture: PA

Referencing WhatsApp messages sent by Ms Sturgeon in which she called Boris Johnson a “f*****g clown” in an exchange with her former aide, Ms Lloyd, Mr Salmond claimed such rhetoric was not what the public expected.

He said: “I certainly wouldn't have had that person anywhere near being a senior adviser. The person you're talking about Liz Lloyd.

“It struck me as one of the most revealing things I saw in that, was that somehow, of all the missing WhatsApp messages, one message which miraculously managed to be retained was the one that referred to Boris Johnson as a 'expletive deletive clown'.

"Now many people, your constituents, my constituents, might agree with that. But I cannot believe the Covid relatives watching that inquiry wanted to hear that, or for that matter, the Scottish secretary, addressing things the way he did in giving his evidence.

"The last thing Covid relatives want to hear is what politicians think of each other. What they want to hear about is what they actually did in terms of addressing those things. As far as that particular case, as far as that particular person is concerned, they would have been 1,000 miles from being a senior adviser [in my government].”

Mr Salmond was also asked about the policy of message deletion. Former deputy first minister John Swinney told the UK Covid Inquiry he “manually” deleted messages between himself, Ms Sturgeon and now First Minister Humza Yousaf in a practice he claimed dated back to 2007.

Mr Salmond said: “I was interested to hear some people say that practise dates back to 2007 to delete messages. It was the first I've heard of it. I actually checked with [former Cabinet members] Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, two ministers at the time, if they ever heard of that policy, and they hadn't heard of it either.

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“I conducted everything through my private office, probably because I wasn't that electronically savvy at the time. I think I had WhatsApp for the first time in 2017, so I conducted everything through my private office, or in personal contact, phone calls or whatever.

"I used to get very annoyed at the informality of emails. I had a whole succession of FOIs [Freedom of Information requests], which showed civil servants emailing each other about the football results, harmless stuff.”

Mr Salmond said he had subsequently suggested a ban on emails, claiming a pilot had taken place in the Government’s historic monument department consisting of three people.

The issue of WhatsApp messages came to the fore late last year, when the UK Covid Inquiry said the majority of such correspondence between senior Government officials during the pandemic had been deleted, in line with guidance.

Some messages, including those of Mr Yousaf, were recovered through various means, but the Government’s handling of the issue has been heavily criticised.

Ms Sturgeon deleted all messages, but stressed she did not conduct Government business by WhatsApp.

Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who sits on the committee, if Ms Sturgeon or Mr Swinney had lied to the inquiry while under oath, the former first minister declined to answer, saying that would be an issue for the inquiry or the information commissioner, who has launched a probe into the issue.

The session also featured a fiery exchange in which Mr Salmond accused Mr Ross of getting facts wrong, saying working in two parliaments “must be quite exhausting going back and forth”.

Mr Ross replied: “Well fortunately you don't have that problem anymore since you're not sitting in either.”



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